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Raising Painted Lady Butterflies

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Picture of a Painted Lady butterfly Are you interested in raising painted lady butterflies? Painted ladies are an easy and magical way to learn about butterflies. Keep reading to learn what to expect and how to raise them!

Supplies:

  • Butterfly larvae – Painted lady butterflies are easy to raise, but this is applicable to many different species (you can order butterflies from science education companies like Carolina Biological or Insect Lore or butterfly nurseries like Butterfly Nursery).

  • Prepared food – If purchasing from a science supply house, the prepared food will come with the larva. If using wild-caught larva, be sure to secure their larval host plant for a food source. If possible, collect food from the same plant they are found to be eating. For example, monarchs need milkweed; black swallowtails need parsley, dill or fennel, among other possible plants.

  • Mesh butterfly rearing cage –These can be found through a science education company.

  • Small paintbrush or cotton swab – A stiff nylon paintbrush works best.

  • Condiment cups with lids in a 3- to 4-ounce size – You will raise larva inside these cups.

  • Coffee filter, paper towel or muslin cloth – This is cut into squares and placed between condiment cup and lid, giving larva a spot to form their chrysalis.

  • Misting spray bottle – A spray bottle is used to mist chrysalises as needed.

  • Safety pins or sewing pins – These are used to fasten chrysalises to the butterfly cage’s mesh.

  • Nylon scouring pad – Adult butterflies land here to drink a sugar water mixture.

  • Sugar water mixture – This serves as “nectar” for adult butterflies.

  • Fresh cut oranges or bananas – This fruit is a food source for adult butterflies.

Be a bug Scientist! If you have ordered larva and are hatching butterflies, use this journal to document your experience! Or you can also use this to document the butterflies you see outside.

Let’s Do It!

Raising your painted lady larva:

  1. Thoroughly clean hands with warm, soapy water when handling caterpillars, chrysalises, and butterflies.

  2. If your caterpillars are already in a habitat cup with food, you can skip to step 7.

  3. Once you have your caterpillars you will need to prepare habitat cups that will hold the larvae until they pupate. The cups need to be prepared within one day of receiving your shipment and should contain enough food to grow the larvae to maturity.

  4. In a small condiment cup with lid, place a small amount of prepared food on the bottom or side of the container (this will be approximately ¼-inch in thickness). Be sure to punch a few small holes in the lid of the container for air circulation; this is most easily done with a safety pin or large sewing needle.

  5. Carefully transfer one to two larvae to each cup using a small paintbrush or cotton swab.

  6. Place a small piece of tissue paper, coffee filter, or thin paper towel over the top of the cup and place the lid on. This will ensure that the filter paper remains securely in place and will allow the larva room to attach and form a chrysalis.

  7. DO NOT PLACE THE CUPS IN DIRECT SUNLIGHT. The cups can become overheated and cause the larvae to die. It is best to maintain a consistent temperature of 68-78 F. If temperatures are warmer, larvae can grow more rapidly, and conversely, if cooler, the larval growth may be slower.

  8. The larval stage will span approximately 5-10 days. Larvae will climb to the top of the cup, attach to the tissue/filter paper, and soon molt into a chrysalis.

  9. Taking larvae out of the cup to handle them or touch them may injure the larvae or make them sick. It’s best to observe the caterpillars by gently picking up the cup and looking through it.

  10. You will enjoy observing your caterpillars through the cups. Depending on temperature, the process of growing from a tiny caterpillar to chrysalis to adult can take up to three weeks, so you may want to be sure you’ll be around when they emerge as adults. Adults will live for two to four weeks.

Transferring your painted lady chrysalis:

  1. After all chrysalises have formed, leave the cups undisturbed for an additional 1-2 days. This is done to ensure that they have properly hardened before transferring them inside the mesh butterfly house.

  2. Open the cup and remove the filter paper to which the chrysalis is attached.

  3. Using tape or safety pins, attach the chrysalises to the inside of the mesh butterfly house. Suspending the chrysalises allows the emerging butterflies to have ample room to properly stretch their wings.

  4. Although suspending the chrysalises is optimal, they may be placed on the bottom of the house without hampering the emergence of the butterflies themselves.

Feeding your adult painted lady butterflies:

  1. A butterfly emerges seven to 10 days after forming a chrysalis.

  2. Don’t worry if you see a fair amount of red liquid on the net, tissue paper or bottom of the butterfly cage—this is meconium, a waste product of the butterfly.

  3. As the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, its wings are folded and crinkled. To expand their wings, butterflies pump a body fluid, hemolymph, into the wing veins.

  4. To feed the butterflies, a sugar-water solution can be prepared and placed in the bottom of the butterfly net in a small dish (adult butterflies require a liquid diet). A sugar-water solution can be made by mixing 1 cup of water with approximately 2 teaspoons of sugar.

  5. A small plastic sponge can be placed in the feeding dish to absorb some of the sugar-water solution and provide a feeding site for your butterflies.

  6. Butterflies also enjoy fruit, including oranges and mashed bananas. Experiment to find out which fruit they like best!

  7. You may continue misting the inside of the butterfly cage once a day because the adults enjoy a higher humidity level and will drink the water droplets that form on the net.

  8. Enjoy your butterflies! Butterflies can be observed for a day, a week or two weeks as long as they have an available food source (sugar-water solution and fruit).

  9. You can release the butterflies or let them live their lives in the observation cage.

  10. After releasing the butterflies, cages and equipment can be cleaned with warm water and a very mild dish detergent. Be sure to rinse several times with clear tap water to remove any soap residue.

Let’s Talk about It!

  1. What did you observe as the painted lady larva transformed from a caterpillar to an adult?

  2. How are these life cycle changes similar to you growing up?

  3. What did you like about this project? How did it help you learn?

  4. How can caring for painted ladies help you to be responsible for all living creatures?

Videos and Other Resources 

  1. Start watching here – learn how to make a larva habitat for your painted lady caterpillar.
  2. Observe the amazing transformation from larva to chrysalis!
  3. Your chrysalis has formed already? Watch how easy it is to transfer your chrysalis to your rearing cage.
  4. The magical moment when an adult painted lady butterfly emerges from its chrysalis!
  5. Congratulations! Your butterflies have emerged and now you can feed them and observe them with wonder!
  6. Full PDF with butterfly raising instructions